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Art Institute of Chicago staff push to form union

September 11, 2021 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) — Dozens of employees of the Art Institute of Chicago rallied this week in support of a move to start a union at one of the country’s largest art museums.

Organizers hope the museum will voluntarily recognize the union if enough employees sign signature cards in support, avoiding a formal vote. They declined to say this week how many employees have signed so far.

The Chicago Tribune reports that about 200 employees of the museum and the associated School of the Art Institute marched down Michigan Avenue on Thursday evening before holding a rally outside the museum.

The union would be part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Employees of other prominent art museums have successfully formed unions with AFSCME in recent years, including the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

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A spokesman for AFSCME Anders Lindall said the Art Institute union would represent about 340 non-management employees including curators, custodians, librarians and retail workers.

There are about 600 employees at the museum.

Sheila Majumdar, a member of the union organizing committee, said staff need more input in the museum’s operations.

Majumdar, who is an editor in the museum’s publication department, said they will push for higher wages and better working conditions after more than 200 layoffs and furloughs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The disconnect between what is reality in our day-to-day work and what leadership thinks is going on is just baffling,” Majumdar said.